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Why Join Peace Corps after Retirement

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One of our retirement goals is to volunteer for Peace Corps for two years after we both fully retired. The kid will be out of the house by then and we’ll be itching to see the world in a new light. We’ll probably be around 55 by then. Is this a realistic goal? Do they even take retired people? Peace Corps is synonymous with young idealistic recent college graduates, but age really isn’t a limitation. If you are in a reasonable good health and pass the medical exam, then you can join. Why join the Peace Corps after you retire? Isn’t retirement the time to relax? Peace Corps assignments are usually a lot more difficult than your average day job. After a lifetime of working, why work even more? I think there are a lot of reasons to join Peace Corps after retirement. Let’s go through them.

join Peace Corps after retirement

Benefit of joining Peace Corps after retirement

Financial Benefits – Peace Corps is a volunteer position so they don’t pay much at all. They will provide each volunteer with housing stipend that enables you to live in a similar manner to the local people in the community. I think they usually find a place for you with a local family. That works for a single person, but probably won’t work for a married couple. I guess you can live with a family for a while and get your own place once you’re settled.

Peace Corps doesn’t pay much, but they will enable you to put off withdrawal from your retirement accounts for a couple of years. If you retire early, this is a huge deal. Your retirement fund will have more time to grow. You will also spend less time in retirement so you will need less money overall.

Lastly, Peace Corps will provide a transition fund of about $8,000 when you complete the assignment. That’s not much, but you can do what you wish with this money.

Medical benefit – Another big problem early retirees face is the cost of healthcare. Peace Corps provides comprehensive healthcare coverage while you serve so that’s great news. That’s 2 years closer to Medicare.

Deferment and cancellation of student loans – Hopefully, your student loans will be paid off by the time you retire. This one is probably more applicable to new grads.

Immersive culture – Traveling is a lot of fun, but it’s impossible to understand a culture in 3 weeks. A stint in Peace Corps will enable you to immerse yourself in a foreign culture. You will get language and cultural training, so that’s pretty nice, too. You can’t pick a country so it’s a crapshoot. You just pick a region and hope for the best.

Improve the world – Who doesn’t want to improve the world? Peace Corps is an opportunity to make a connection and lend a hand. It’s a tough job, but it’s very rewarding from what I hear. The memory of your term will be priceless. You can’t buy something like that.

Ease into retirement – A lot of people have a hard time transitioning into retirement. After working full time for 40 years, it’s a huge change to not work. The unstructured time is nice for a while, but people get really restless after a few years. Joining the Peace Corps is a great way to transition into retirement. You will work a lot, but it won’t be for money. It will let you wrap your mind around the idea of retirement.

Peace Corps is not easy

Mrs. RB40 joined the Peace Corps when she graduated from college and she said that the saying, “You experience your highest highs and your lowest lows” is completely true.  She was determined to make the best of her experiences, so she didn’t end her service early, though that was always an option.  She served in Uzbekistan and ran into one obstacle after another, which really changed her perspective on how to get things done.  She also had to balance having a certain degree of independence while feeling like she had no independence at all. I guess that’s not unusual with volunteers. I’ll let her tell you a bit about her experience.

Mrs. RB40’s take

Gosh, trying to reminisce about Peace Corps nearly 20 years after the fact is somewhat daunting, but I’ll do my best.  There’s obviously a lot I could tell you, but since I’m confined to this setting, here goes:  My group had 40 volunteers, and a few actually dropped out during training.  I remember that our group had a few married couples and even fewer retirees.  Only one of the retirees made it through the entire two years.  If you are married and you both want to volunteer, go ahead and submit your application.  If you think you want to volunteer on your own but you’re part of a couple, both of you are going to have to answer a psychological questionnaire.  The waiting period might take a little longer because there needs to be openings for the type of positions you are filling.  When I served, the country had hosted an English program and a business program.  One of the married couples consisted of an English teacher and a business teacher; the other two couples were part of the English program.  At the end of two years, our group of 40 had dwindled down to about 23.

Some of the issues I had actually started before I began.  I had a heck of a time getting cleared medically, even though I was in generally good health.  I was in a hurry to get my application in, so instead of going home and getting an appointment with my regular doctor,  went to the student clinic.  The blood test showed I was anemic; when I went home a few weeks later, my blood test was fine.  So of course, I had to get a bunch of medical professionals to explain the discrepancy.  Then I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled – all four of them.  Peace Corps really doesn’t like to med-evac anyone due to the cost, so any issues you have that could potentially be a problem later need to be taken care of.  If you’re retiring and even though you’re in reasonably good health, keep this in mind.

I finally received my official invitation on a Friday.  I got on the plane (with hastily pulled together clothes and supplies that were supposed to last me two years) that following Monday.

The cultural adjustment was definitely difficult.  Being an only child and living a generally independent life made having an instant extended family (that never knocked before walking in) exceedingly jarring.  Having a host mother ask me where I was going (especially when I needed to go to the local post office to make a phone call) felt very annoying, especially after being on my own for the past few years at college.  I reminded myself that I was there to learn as much as I could and do what I could in my role as English teacher, and this wasn’t a vacation.

Another issue I had was with my ‘credentials’.  Many locals could not understand how it was possible for me to be an English teacher if my university major was not English.   It was political science, so obviously, I was really a politician and not a ‘real’ English teacher.  Never mind that I was completely trained for the job.  Sigh. Being relatively young at the time also worked against me; a university degree didn’t matter.  In the local culture, if you’re young, you clearly don’t know anything.  Note to retired folks who come to Uzbekistan:  You’ll be deferred to here, and if you’re older than 55, you’ll be expected to be much more serious!

The school system is so different than in the US.  I can’t even explain it here; we’re just going to have to have a conversation sometime.  I taught at a regular school, a lyceum (or advanced school) and a gymnasium (for small children).  I also worked with several local teachers who needed practice with English conversation and pronunciation.

Learning the local language was actually not the most difficult thing, though I admit that I could have applied myself more in this area.  There were times when I could understand what was being said, but did not have the capability to carry on the conversation myself.  That got frustrating.  It gets tiring to have to also explain things all the time or to have things explained to you; sometimes you just want to have a conversation or make a joke without stopping to explain the context, how things are in America, how things are locally, or why something is or is not funny.

And then…when people learned that I spent my college years in Santa Barbara…does anyone remember the old soap opera, Santa Barbara?  I never watched it, but apparently, every local knew every character, every word, every story line, and they plied me with questions about the place as though I were best friends with everyone on the show.

There are times when I wonder whether I should have waited before joining the Peace Corps, whether I should have had a more mature perspective before going in.  I might have been a little less frustrated.  Then again, if I didn’t just go when I had the chance, I might have put off the experience and then never gone.  If I had been smarter about this, I could have used my experience in a noncompetitive opportunity if I tried hard enough to search for a federal job within two years of finishing my service.  But I didn’t really understand the concept, and let that opportunity slip by, sending me on a different career path.

I know that Joe wants to volunteer as a couple.  But there are things to consider.  What if one of us is more enamored with the job?   What if one of us has a problem on the  job and it somehow impacts the other?  What if one of us wants to end service early?  Does one stay and the other go (typically, married volunteers are treated as one)?  I’d consider doing this again as long as everything works out.  But I’m not as enamored with the concept as Joe is.

Closing…

Hmm.. I guess we’ll see how it goes when we’re 55. 🙂 I would love to volunteer for Peace Corps in the Asia region. Thailand would be perfect! I speak the language and I already know the culture. Actually, any of the countries in the Asian and Pacific Islands region would be fascinating. RB40 Jr. can come visit us during the holidays. I think it would be a great experience. Anyway, if it doesn’t work out, we can always just go live in those countries for a while and explore opportunities on our own.

Would you consider joining the Peace Corps or similar organization after you retire?

Photo credit: Peace Corps website

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Ernie Zelinski December 1, 2014, 1:13 am

    You ask,

    “Would you consider joining the Peace Corps or similar organization after you retire?”

    Not me now that I am 65. I wouldn’t have the energy for this.

    Also, I am “organizationally averse.”

    Most important, however: The way I see it (and stated in “How to Retire Happy Wild, and Free”), you will have attained true freedom in this world when you can get up in the morning when you want to get up; go to sleep when you want to go to sleep; and in the interval, work and play at the things you want to work and play at — all at your own pace. I don’t believe the Peace Corps or a similar organization would allow me to experience this degree of freedom.

    • retirebyforty December 1, 2014, 10:48 am

      Actually, I’m not very good in an organization either. I think a 2 year stint would probably be okay, though. Hopefully, I can do it when I’m still in my 50s. Two years of less freedom would be fine for me. We’ll see if they accept me. I might not have the right experience for the positions.

  • Chuck December 1, 2014, 2:00 am

    This type of article is exactly why I read this blog! I especially liked the way your wife presented her “self doubts” about joining and serving in the Peace Corps, and that she does not entirely agree with Joe about serving again. I love it! Please keep them coming. Chuck

    • retirebyforty December 1, 2014, 10:49 am

      Thanks Chuck. Why does Mrs. RB40 always air her doubt on the blog? Couldn’t she give me some warning in person? 🙂

      • Mrs. RB40 December 1, 2014, 11:37 am

        Overall, I enjoyed Peace Corps. But I also remember some of the difficulties. I don’t know if I want to re-experience those; then again, we may have good experiences. Who knows? Serving again is always an option. I’m just not in a hurry.

  • Pennypincher December 1, 2014, 2:49 am

    Leave it to the RB40 team to write an open, honest, interesting, thought provoking post!
    Oh, I forgot entertaining too. Regarding the peace corps? I think I’ll just sit here in my recliner with my hot tea instead. Plenty of good, rewarding community volunteer work to do around my area.
    Mrs. RB40-why not let Joe go when the time is right? Secret to a happy marriage-plenty of time away from spouse! : )

    • retirebyforty December 1, 2014, 10:50 am

      That might be a good idea. We’ll probably both apply, but if only one of us is accepted, that’s fine too. She can always come for an extended visit.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods December 1, 2014, 4:03 am

    I think it sounds like a great idea. The fact that you’ll only be 55 at the time seems ideal too–that’s pretty young all things considered, and you’ll likely still be in great health. And, I love the thought of doing the Peace Corps together with my husband. We love to travel and volunteer, so I think it’s something we’ll definitely consider.

  • The Stoic December 1, 2014, 4:12 am

    I’ve had a fascination with the Peace Corps since high school. I still think of volunteering “some day”. For now I live vicariously through some of the volunteers. You can donate to specific volunteer projects and if you request it, those volunteers will send an update. I’ve received photos and letters from the various projects I’ve contributed to. It has been nice and makes me feel like I’m apart of it even though I’m not an actual volunteer.

    • retirebyforty December 1, 2014, 10:51 am

      I didn’t know you can donate to specific projects. That’s a great idea. Thanks for letting us know.

  • David D December 1, 2014, 8:03 am

    This is something my wife and I have been planning to do for years too. After retirement, but before any grandkids come seems to be the best time.

    Thanks for bringing up some issues I haven’t thought of yet.

  • nicoleandmaggie December 1, 2014, 8:21 am

    My grandma did it back in the 80s. Her first assignment was great. Her second assignment was terrible and was in part responsible for some health problems she would continue to have later.

    • retirebyforty December 1, 2014, 10:52 am

      Sorry to hear that. What kind of health problem did she pick up? Is it malaria or something scary like that? I hope the healthcare is a bit better now. They will medivac you if you have a big problem, but it’s not good to have those health issue.

  • Ed Carver December 1, 2014, 8:42 am

    We are trying to stay within our physical and medical abilities, so based on the standards you outlined the Peace Corp may be too ambitious. My wife and I have talked about living in a RV and traveling around the US helping build Habitat for Humanity houses for those less fortunate. I believe they have a group of retirees that do this on an annual basis. Many of my friends think retirement is sitting on the couch, but like you, that’s just not in the cards. If you are active in life you will be more active in retirement. -Retired at 51.

    • retirebyforty December 1, 2014, 10:52 am

      That’s a great idea too. We’ll volunteer with Habitat when our kid is a bit older. There are plenty of local projects.

  • Zach @ Dividend Ladder December 1, 2014, 10:04 am

    I like this way of thinking and it lines up with how I want to spend my time when I reach retirement. Thank you for the encouraging food for thought.

  • Wilson December 1, 2014, 11:51 am

    I was accepted to the Peace Corps around the same time and offered a position teaching in Turkmenistan. Kudos to Mrs. RB40 for doing her service; I had been nominated for another region and ended up with cold feet and turning down the assignment. Ultimately I ended up with another program in Oregon for a year, but I’ve always been curious about what I missed out on and have a slight twinge of regret. I wouldn’t want to volunteer as a couple as I think I’d chafe under those strictures, but I have considered in a few years teaching abroad in a somewhat for profit position. I think it’d be great to live abroad a year or two while our kid is still young.

    A few years ago a partner at a prominent local law firm who is older took a sabbatical and served in the Peace Corps with his wife somewhere in Eastern Europe/ Central Asia and had a tremendous experience. So there’s precedent.

  • Petrish December 2, 2014, 1:16 am

    Joining the Peace Corps is a big deal, and it must be really rewarding for a couple to experience it together. At retirement most couples will know each other inside out, and I’m sure that fact will for them to enjoy the experience without much conflict together. I have been travelling for the past 20 years and this program would seem to be great for someone who wants to give back and see other cultures not on their own dime. If you both do decide to join I agree go for a location somewhere in Asia. Good luck.

  • Dividend Harvester December 2, 2014, 12:54 pm

    As much as I love the idea, I think it would be too much of a time commitment. The general concept is very interesting, but I think we’ll be looking to do some docent/volunteer work at local historical sites, working on archaeology digs, or assisting at the local animal shelter/food bank.

    • retirebyforty December 3, 2014, 12:02 pm

      It is a huge time commitment. It’s not an easy position.

  • Journey to Total Freedom December 10, 2014, 1:00 pm

    Yes, I will definitely consider it. Thanks for the advice!

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